Jacobus Hendrik Pierneef was born in Pretoria to Dutch-Boer parents in 1886. During the Anglo-Boer War the family briefly returned to live in the Netherlands although it was not until 1925 that the young artist made his first professional trip to Europe. Pierneef visited France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands during his trip and was inspired by the burgeoning neo-impressionist and modernist movements and their predecessor Art Nouveau that were then sweeping the continent.
Previously celebrated for his monumental impressionistic visions of the South African landscape, Pierneef brought back with him to South Africa a fresh new style which he told friends would "deliver a heavy blow on the Pretoria frontier" and "shock many an art connoisseur".
This dramatic new avant garde style, filled with geometric shapes and symbolist tones, is now much admired but failed to woo the more traditional Pretoria art buying classes of the time. Lest he face financial ruin, Pierneef was persuaded to tone down his new style of landscape painting to remain commercially viable, albeit in a fashion that still showed the distinctive influence of Europe's modernist trends.
In 1929 Pierneef was commissioned to paint 32 panels for the interior of the then-new Johannesburg Railway Station (now Park Station), a task he completed by 1932 (the original panels are now on display at the Rupert Museum in Stellenbosch). He was also commissioned to paint several murals for South Africa House in London, the building on Trafalgar Square which now houses the South African embassy.
The works which Pierneef produced between the late 1920s and early 1930s following his return from Europe are among his most highly regarded and in recent years some have sold at auction for upwards of R6 million (around 500,000 Euros).
This feature is part of an on-going series highlighting the works of South Africa's most celebrated artists. Previous features have included profiles on Alexis Prellerand Vladimir Tretchikoff.